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A Hopeful Picture for People with Mental Illness Who Want to Work

It’s too bad USA Today decided to lead with such a downer title for the latest article in its current series on mental illness: 

 ‘Bleak Picture’ for Mentally Ill: 80% Are Jobless
(usatoday.com, July 10, 2014)

While this unfortunate fact is true, the good news, which the article brings to light, is that an effective evidenced-based solution exists to help people with mental illness find and sustain employment.  It is called the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model of Supported Employment.

For the last five years I have observed IPS Supported Employment up close at Laurel House, RtoR’s affiliate organization in Stamford, CT, and have seen how effective it is at helping people with mental illness get and keep competitive jobs in the community.

The USA Today article points out that about “two-thirds of the $444 billion cost of mental illness in the USA comes from lost earnings and disability payments.”  For a relative low cost (about $4,000 a year according to Robert Drake of the Dartmouth IPS Supported Employment Center), IPS can help people get back into the workforce, where they pay taxes and contribute to the economy.  Perhaps even more significant than the financial impact of IPS, is the finding that work itself is therapeutic and actually results in a reduction of symptoms.

You can find out more about this evidence-based practice from the official Dartmouth websiteIPS Supported Employment is also a Featured Best Practice 

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2 thoughts on “A Hopeful Picture for People with Mental Illness Who Want to Work

  1. Jeanette says:

    I completely agree that employment can have a significant positive impact on a person’s life and recovery in a number of ways. A job is so meaningful to a person in terms of feeling a sense of satisfaction and purpose, and that is something the IPS model most certainly strives to help each individual feel.

    I recently came across an article which sheds some light in response to the article from USA Today. The article was written by the founder and CEO of the Psych Central website. The author argues that it is not “all people with mental illness who have the 80 percent jobless rate.” The author goes on to state that the study only covered individuals with a mental illness who are receiving care in the public mental health system. The author argues that there is a greater majority of the population that were not accounted for in this study, including those who do not seek mental health treatment, and those who receive services from private organizations.

    So perhaps this is even better news for the mental health population, as the article may have only covered results from 20% of the population.

  2. Jay Boll, Editor in Chief says:

    Good point, Jeanette.  Thanks for raising it.  

    The different calculations of rates of unemployment result from different definitions of what constitutes a mental illness.  By the broadest definition, about 20% of Americans have experienced mental illness.  That includes people with substance use disorders and less debilitating forms of depression and anxiety.  Those people may have serious mental health concerns, but many of them are clearly working.  The USA Today article does refer to "serious mental illness", which is usually taken to mean the approximately 4% of the population who live with disabling forms of mental illness.  But the article does not do a good job of pointing out that the 80% unemployment rate refers to those people who are most seriously affected.  

    IPS Supported Employment Services are usually intended for this much smaller subset of all people living with mental illness.   The blogger on psychcentral.com is right to point out that many people with mental illness are successfully engaged in gainful employment.  But USA Today should be commended for drawing national attention to the smaller but still significant group of people who have historically been unemployed and are now gaining access to the workplace through IPS Supported Employment services provided by people like you and your colleagues (for those of you who don't know Jeanette, she happens to be one of the excellent IPS Employment Specialists at Laurel House in Stamford, CT…  Plug, plug). 

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